My daughter is in 1st grade and she is having her
first experience with behavior modification. Every student
has a clip and inappropriate behavior may necessitate moving the
clip to a certain color.
When I ask my daughter about her day she shares a few details
and always ends with "I didn't have to move my clip!" At the
beginning of the year I found myself saying things like, great
job! Good for you! Supportive things that any
mother would say.
But now it is the middle of the year and I am detecting
something different in her voice. It sounds a little
strained, a little flat, possibly with a tinge of worry when she
says, "I didn't have to move my clip today…"
Today I answer her differently. When she tells me that she
didn't have to move her clip, I say, what do you think would
happen if you had to move your clip? She looks at me
with anxious surprise - as if I just uncovered a deep dark
secret. "I don't know what would happen", she says with wide
I see an opportunity, but I am hesitant. How do I explain
to my 1st grader that mistakes help us become who we are
meant to be?
I think back to when I was 16, sitting next to my dad in a
courtroom. My "crimes" were nothing of great consequence
(trespassing in a park after it closed, out past curfew), but they
were poor choices nevertheless.
I remember feeling awful about being in that courtroom. I
was down on myself, thinking how I had disappointed anyone who ever
knew me. Wondering who I was and how I got there. These
are vital questions for a teenager. This was an important
moment in my life.
I remember looking up at my dad, still in his suit because he
had to leave work early. I remember seeing a slight smile on
his face when he looked at me. He didn't think this was
funny, nor was he trying to make me feel better. I just think
he understood the significance of the moment. He knew this
was a rite of passage - maybe not for every 16 year old, but for
He knew that mistakes can be gifts if we view them in present
time, without the baggage of fear or worry about what everybody
else thinks. That smile gave me hope. It was like he
already knew that everything would be just fine. The day in
the courtroom didn't need to define who I was; instead, it could
help me define who I wanted to be. Mistakes are the teachers
that allow us to make informed choices.
I respond to my daughter by saying, you will learn. She
looks at me with confusion and says, "Learn what?" I tell her
that she will learn what it feels like to make a mistake in school
and then she can decide whether or not she wants to do it
"What if I make the same mistake again?" You will
continue to learn, I say.
This is an important connection with my daughter because I know
she is uncomfortable with mistakes. I hope to give her some room to
breathe - to let her know that choices are a part of life and they
can't all be good ones.
My younger daughters may fall somewhere else on the behavior
spectrum - I may need to offer balance from the other
direction. But this daughter needs to know that there are
things to learn outside of the box. I don't want her to look
at rules and structure as fear inducing or stifling. I would
rather she view them as helpful guides along her journey.
Her life choices have just begun and because I am her parent,
her choices will affect me. Some will make me angry, some
will make me cry, and some will make me extremely proud.
But no matter how I feel, I hope I can conjure up that slight
smile. Not because I think her choices are funny, but because
I know she is in the process of finding herself. To let her
know that I understand the importance of life experience and I
trust that her misjudgments will help her find her real path.
The smile that says don't worry, I have faith in you. I
know who you are.
Cathy Adams is a certified parenting coach, yoga instructor and mother to three girls.
See more of Cathy's stories here.
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